A Case For The Curious: Opioids In Dentistry

The opioid epidemic is a crisis that has swept the country. It leaves no community or population untouched. And unlike other drug epidemics, the opioid epidemic is particularly horrible in suburban communities, many just like our own Arlington. At the office of Dr. Marchbanks, we understand the addictive power these strong prescription medications have and are committed to working with professional organizations such as the American Dental Association and the federal government to ensure all opioid prescriptions follow best practices and the prescribing standards outlined by the Centers for Disease Control. 

 Dentistry and opioids

Since there is so much confusion about how dentists have a role in containing this crisis, keep reading to see what we’re doing to ensure our patients remain safe.  


I didn’t realize dentists prescribe opioids 


If you have good oral health and are just in to see us bi-annually for your regular appointments, you might have never thought that, just like other doctors, dentists too have the ability to prescribe pain medications. However, for patients who have more invasive procedures like root canals or tooth extractions, prescription-level pain relief is sometimes needed.  


A recent study examined trends in opioid prescribing practices of dentists from 2010-2015. In 2012, dentists wrote 6.4% of all opioid prescriptions in the United States. However, that percentage continues to increase. Approximately 68.41% of all opioids prescribed were during surgical dental visits, and approximately 31.10% during nonsurgical dental visits.  


Do you try other relief measures before resorting to opioids?  


We always try other anti-inflammatory options as the first line of defense for pain relief. If over-the-counter medications don’t meet the need, then we always take into consideration a patient’s substance history prior to writing any prescriptions.  


In addition to counseling on medical history, we have a comprehensive conversation with patients on the benefits and drawbacks of using opioids. If opioids are prescribed, we discuss how to safely store and dispose of excess pills. In many instances, it’s not even the patient who abuses the opioid, but a family member or guest who finds excess pills and uses them without permission. 


Finally, when writing any prescription, we consult with the Centers for Disease Control and the State Listening Board to determine safe prescribing levels.  


How to stay informed 


To ensure everyone at our office is up-to-date on research and prescribing practices, we take continuing education very seriously. In fact, the American Dental Association is so committed to curbing this epidemic that they offer free webinars on all aspects of pain management, addiction, and effective opioid prescribing. They encourage all dentists seek continuing education in addiction screening. Through this training, denting are taught specialized techniques to identify concerning substance use behaviors; specific best-practices at motivating at-risk individuals to change their behavior; and referring patients to addiction specialists for appropriate diagnosis and treatment.  


Informing patients 


We understand that many of our patients have a fear of the dentist and avoid dental care due to fear of pain. If you have concerns about pain management before or after a procedure, please give our office a call today. We can walk you through both the pros and cons of opioids as wells the other services we offer in the office to help eliminate pain. We are dedicated to ensuring all our patients are healthy and happy and we strive to not put them in a situation that could lead to a future problem.  

Also published on Medium.

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